So far this year, only two LNG vessels have gone from the United States to China, versus 14 during the first four months of 2018 before the start of the 10-month trade war.
On Monday, China said it would boost the tariff on U.S. LNG to 25% starting June 1 versus the current rate of 10%.
That move came in retaliation for a U.S. increase on Friday in tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from 10%.
Between February 2016, when the United States started exporting LNG from the Lower 48 states, and July 2018, when the trade war started, China was the third biggest purchaser of U.S. shipments of the supercooled fuel. So far this year, China is not even in the top 15.
“I expect they will have a hard time landing a tanker carrying U.S. LNG in China if they impose a 25 percent tariff on it,” said Jack Weixel, senior director at IHS Markit’s PointLogic analytics arm.
Stephen Comstock, a director at the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, said the retaliatory tariffs “dampen the prospects for the growing U.S. LNG investment, hurt U.S. workers, and benefit America’s foreign competitors.”
Natural gas is seen as a bridge fuel between current worldwide use of much dirtier coal for power generation and industrial consumption, and renewable fuels, because it burns cleaner. It has seen massive growth in sales in recent years, particularly to Asian nations seeking to reduce their dependence on coal.
The United States, meanwhile, is the fastest-growing LNG exporter in the world, and is expected to rank third in exports in 2019 behind Qatar and Australia. China is the second biggest LNG importer in the world behind Japan.
For a graphic on U.S. LNG shipments to China, see: tmsnrt.rs/2W29f88.
So far, the biggest U.S. LNG producer, Cheniere Energy Inc, has not expressed major concerns about the trade war. Last week, Cheniere, which owns two of the three big operating U.S. LNG export terminals, said the trade war is “unproductive and creates some added costs for our Chinese consumers,” but it has not yet materially affected sales.
Shares of Cheniere were down 3.9% to $65.24 on Monday.
The United States and China started imposing tariffs on each other’s goods in July 2018. As the dispute heated up, China added LNG to its list of proposed tariffs in August and imposed a 10% tariff on LNG in September.
U.S. LNG sales had already been affected by a 60 percent collapse in Japan Korea Marker (JKM) LNG prices seen since September.
“Weaker JKM spot prices in Asia already killed most of the commercial reasoning for U.S. LNG sales to China. The tariff is the knockout blow,” said Ira Joseph, head of global gas and power analytics at S&P Global Platts.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas